Mayor Byron W. Brown’s $508.6 million proposed spending plan for 2019-20 is $4.9 million less than the current budget. So where did the money go?
The smaller budget resulted from savings and efficiencies, not by making cuts, said Donna J. Estrich, commissioner of administration, finance, policy and urban affairs.
The administration cited:
- Sales tax growth of $3.6 million plus $1.8 million from the state's new internet sales tax.
- A new online portal that will allow city residents to pay property taxes and user fees online, set up a payment schedule and schedule electronic reminders. The new system's efficiencies are projected to save the city $280,000.
- $3.1 million in PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) revenues, down from the previous year because more properties are paying regular taxes. That puts $580,000 back on the tax rolls.
The upshot is that the residential property tax rate in Brown’s spending plan is $18.47 per $1,000 of assessed value, down a couple pennies from the current rate of $18.49. Commercial taxes would rise to $29.48 per $1,000, up from $28.22, but still less than when Brown took office.
As recommended by a citizens' commission, the budget also includes money to hike the mayor's salary to $158,500, up from $105,000; the comptroller's salary to $119,500, up from $88,412; and Council members' salaries to $75,000, up from $52,000.
Here's what else you need to know about the proposed budget:
- There will be $1.26 million for full implementation of the Buffalo Police Department's body camera program, as well as for Tasers and more vehicles.
- There is also money for two new police classes, totaling 75 officers, to cut overtime and enhance community policing.
- Funding for a new class of 40 firefighters is also included in the budget to to cut overtime in that department.
Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, a former police officer, estimated it could be about six months for new recruits to complete training and hit the streets once they've been selected.
- The Buffalo Public Schools would get the same $70.8 million schools are getting this year. Out of that would come $45,000 if the citizen panel's recommendation to raise salaries of the nine School Board members from $5,000 to $10,000 is adopted.
- Brown allocates another $500,000 to Buffalo's Say Yes to Education, bringing the administration's total investment to $2.8 million. New is $125,000 to the schools and Say Yes for a program to stem learning loss during summer vacation.
Rivera had said he’d like to see increased funding for the school district, including an expansion of the "community schools" initiative. In an emailed statement Thursday — the day after the proposed budget was released — the Council majority leader said that in terms of "increasing the schools allotment … we'll have to wait and see as to what we hear from each department" during the budget hearing process. The Council has until May 22 to adopt a budget.
Buying Street Lights to Save
Brown would have the city take over the street lighting system from National Grid at a cost of about $80 million and with assistance from the New York Power Authority. State law requires electric companies to offer this to municipalities, said Michael J. Finn, acting commissioner of public works, parks and streets.
The city currently pays $10 million annually for a monthly facility charge, which would cease, and for the energy. While still paying for energy, that cost would be cut in half and the plan would save at least $1 million a year once the conversion to energy-saving bulbs is complete, officials said, adding that the estimate is based on science and accounting.
"This is what we know we pay now. This is what we know we'll stop paying. This is the money needed for the conversion... We consulted with experts in a lot of places, including ones where this has been successful," Finn said.
Brown's budget includes $11 million in casino revenue from the Seneca Nation, less than last year's amount but still a question mark for some Council members given the nation's call for a federal review of the arbitration decision ordering it to pay the money.
"It's like an I.O.U.," Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk said Thursday. "We won that case … but ... unless it's cash in hand, I wouldn't book it. It's as simple as that. Will the state make up the gap? That I don't know. … Those are the answers that we need to know."
The budget includes $750,000 from a controversial surcharge on tickets at Canalside, Coca-Cola Field, KeyBank Center, Kleinhans Music Hall and Shea’s Performing Arts Center. The money is included on the expectation that legislation that has been tabled in the Council during the months-long dispute will be amended and then adopted.
A charitable donations program is expected to bring in $3.1 million that has already been committed over a two-and-a-half-year period, and the administration expects the number to grow as the program continues.